“The “Population Bomb” Echoes

madhedgefundtrader's picture

Pack your portfolios with agricultural plays like Potash (POT), Mosaic (MOS), and Agrium (AGU) if Dr. Paul Ehrlich is just partially right about the impending collapse in the world’s food supply. You might even throw in long positions in wheat, corn, soybeans, and rice.

The never dull, and often controversial Stanford biology professor told me he expects that global warming is leading to significant changes in world weather patterns that will cause droughts in some of the largest food producing areas, causing massive famines. Food prices will skyrocket, and billions could die.

At greatest risk are the big rice producing areas in South Asia, which depend on glacial run off from the Himalayas. If the glaciers melt, this crucial supply of fresh water will disappear. California faces a similar problem if the Sierra snowpack fails to show up in sufficient quantities, as it has in recent years.

Rising sea levels displacing 500 million people in low lying coastal areas is another big problem. One of the 79 year old professor’s early books The Population Bomb was required reading for me in college in 1970, and I used to drive up from Los Angeles to hear his lectures (followed by the obligatory side trip to the Haight-Ashbury).

Other big risks to the economy are the threat of a third world nuclear war caused by population pressures, and global plagues facilitated by a widespread growth of intercontinental transportation and globalization. And I won’t get into the threat of a giant solar flare frying our electrical grid.

“Super consumption” in the US needs to be reined in where the population is growing the fastest.  If the world adopts an American standard of living, we need four more Earths to supply the needed natural resources. We must to raise the price of all forms of carbon, preferably through taxes, but cap and trade will work too. Population control is the answer to all of these problems, which is best achieved by giving women an education, jobs, and rights, and has already worked well in Europe and Japan.

All sobering food for thought.

To see the data, charts, and graphs that support this research piece, as well as more iconoclastic and out-of-consensus analysis, please visit me at www.madhedgefundtrader.com . There, you will find the conventional wisdom mercilessly flailed and tortured daily, and my last two years of research reports available for free. You can also listen to me on Hedge Fund Radio by clicking on “This Week on Hedge Fund Radio” in the upper right corner of my home page.

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Flakmeister's picture

From the recent Economist:

Acrerage of Wheat and Rice under cultivation is failing to keep track with population growth.

Yields have basically been flat for 20 years....

Draw your own conclusions, but these are the facts.

AnAnonymous's picture

Troubles with all this economist drivel is they fail to compute food as it has been instrumentalized as a weapon to ease trade negociation and open up market.

Fact is the West has relentlessly subsidized its crops to undersell foreign producers who were unable to invest in their farming sector as they were undermined by dumped food on their market.

Flakmeister's picture

  It is not drivel, though I do not agree with everything in the article. You are correct that Western food practices are part of the problem. The 14 page article basically concludes that Africa is the only hope going forward.  Yields have hit flatline, dumping more fertilizer etc... has not improved them.

The problem is that the "Green Revolution" relied on use of hydrocarbons to boost production, well thought out estimates suggest 10% of fossil fuel use is directly tied to agriculture. Connect the dots, my friend. 

AnAnonymous's picture

Any evidence I did not connect the dots?


Flakmeister's picture

Not clear whether you connected the same dots that I did...there are a lot of dots after all...

AnAnonymous's picture

Your comment report under cultivation. Subsidizes and food used as a weapon has a deep impact on cultivation. It appears it is the same dots.

Flakmeister's picture

On the scale of the disagreements in this thread, we are at the point of quibbling.

celticgold's picture

 so will australia if the recent rainfall events are ongoing , greening the desert

Man Bear Pig's picture

Population control is the answer to all of these problems, which is best achieved by giving women an education, jobs, and rights

Why not remove the tax incentives to have more babies in the US? Want to influence behavior? Add/remove penalties & fees/tax breaks to promote/discourage desired behavior in the population... Not that education, jobs, and rights for women aren't important, but we currently actively encourage the poor to have more children, thus keeping them in perpetual poverty.

JR's picture

Fear is the weapon used by the Greens from Hell, the cap and trade profiteers and global controllers, to render the American people pliant enough to carry the yoke of global governance without complaint.

However, they don’t intend to restrict the causes of climate change—as if they could—they intend to restrict the peoples of the world.

"A massive campaign must be launched to de-develop the United States. De-development means bringing our economic system into line with the realities of ecology and the world resource situation."
- Paul Ehrlich, Professor of Population Studies and Obama’s Science Czar

"Isn't the only hope for the planet that the industrialized civilizations collapse? Isn't it our responsibility to bring that about?"
- Maurice Strong*, founder of the UN Environment Programme and on board of Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) 

"No matter if the science of global warming is all phony...climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world."
- Christine Stewart, former Canadian Minister of the Environment

"The only hope for the world is to make sure there is not another United States. We can't let other countries have the same number of cars, the amount of industrialization, we have in the US. We have to stop these Third World countries right where they are."
- Michael Oppenheimer, Environmental Defense Fund

"Global Sustainability requires the deliberate quest of poverty, reduced resource consumption and set levels of mortality control."
- Professor Maurice King

"We need to get some broad based support to capture the public's imagination...So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements and make little mention of any doubts... Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."
- Prof. Stephen Schneider, Stanford Professor of Climatology, lead author of many IPCC reports.

"We must make this an insecure and inhospitable place for capitalists and their projects. We must reclaim the roads and plowed land, halt dam construction, tear down existing dams, free shackled rivers and return to wilderness millions of acres of presently settled land.”
- David Foreman, co-founder of Earth First!


Hexus's picture


I was banned from the Guardian for posting similar quotes from their AGW cardinals, very odd isn't it.

prophet_banker's picture

global warming fact #1, Causation and correlation of earth's tempature comes from the sun, not CO2.

Sofa King's picture

You said "Places where you could grow rice, wheat, and corn you won't be able to in the future." but if it's a shift in climate, won't you be able to grow those things in a different region.  Dude, once rates go up and this stupid QE nonsense stops, your Ag futures won't be worth the bytes they are formed with.  Learn how to do something other than speculate, you will need to produce in the new economy, not just live off of someone elses labor.

MrBoompi's picture

You mean we won't have idle rich in the new economy? Surely you jest.

AnAnonymous's picture

and global plagues facilitated by a widespread growth of intercontinental transportation and globalization.


 That means like what happened in the Americas? Maybe blankets could be added to the mix.

“Super consumption” in the US needs to be reined in where the population is growing the fastest.  If the world adopts an American standard of living, we need four more Earths to supply the needed natural resources. We must to raise the price of all forms of carbon, preferably through taxes, but cap and trade will work too. Population control is the answer to all of these problems, which is best achieved by giving women an education, jobs, and rights, and has already worked well in Europe and Japan.


Jobs, education and rights: in many areas of the world, women have access to them. They can work all day on fields, are educated in those areas and have rights.

What has led to the decline in birth rate is the rise in prosperity.

To achieve the same birth rate, then, prosperity will have to be achieved in those areas. As the US prosperity has been achieved mainly by excluding some other people from their resources so they can be channelled to the US, well, good luck with that.


New Revolution's picture

Yeah Dude,... there is no global warming,... at least not until 2030, then you'll get all you want.   But in the meantime it's global cooling that's the greatest threat, and most likely in the Southern Hemisphere where the earth is another 3 million miles further away from the Sun during their growing season which puts them at greater risk of crop failures due to an early or late frost.   Potatoes are the way to go because they survive much better under cool conditions, but I don't see where they're going to be prepared that quickly for such an occurrance in this day and age.    Bon appetite'

XitSam's picture

The diameter of the earth is 7,913 miles. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=diameter+of+earth

The Earth's distance from the sun varies by about 100,000 miles. http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=eccentricity+of+earth+orbit

Go back to school.

Milestones's picture

Huh?? Last time I flew from Denver to BsAs in Argentina it was around 8,000 miles. Where in the hell did you get 3 million miles?? Just wondering.     Milestones

downrodeo's picture

Depopulation starts with you, bud...

Mr Lennon Hendrix's picture

The price of food has nothing to do with Dr. Ehrlick (who now studies weather patterns?  Bahaha!).  The price of food has everything to do  with how much capitol is chasing it.  Demand for food is increasing minimally, as the population has rounded under 7 billion people for the time being.  The number will remain in flux, and if the world practiced perfect farming techniques more nutrition coould come from the earth.  I am speaking directly to the US agriculture system, as petro fert and chems not only destroy the earth, but also take away nutrients from the food itself (anti oxidents and what not).

Will the middle classes of the "Third World" compete with those of the First World andraise demand?  Absolutely.  But this would have a minimal and slow change over, a decade or so.  Instead Bernanke and Co. kill all currencies.  Hey, by the way, MHFT, what was it that Geithner said about the dollar?  Just kidding.

prophet_banker's picture

it is more relavant to talk about the price of food, and not the production.  All famines in the past were due more to lack of money for food than lack of food.  In Haiti, where people eat mud to fill the hunger pains, giant agri business's are exporting.

Hexus's picture

So you're saying we should depopulate the rich? I like this idea, but I doubt it'll catch on, the elitists are hardly going to fund a movement advocating their OWN deaths now are they.

qmhedging's picture

Russia will have more farmland if there's a real warming

Milestones's picture

Also large release of methane  gas from thawing permafrost ground which is not too cool.   Milestones 

Stuck on Zero's picture

Glaciers in the Himalyas supply less than 3% of the water to the rice growing areas.  If the glacier melts the water end up in the valley where they're growing the rice anyway.  Flooding of seacoasts?  How slow are these people anyway?  The fastest advance of the water is on the order of 3 mm/yr.  Any decent turtle could escape that.  This is all big-government, elitism and university buffoonery.  Long before the earth's population becomes unmanageable a volcano in the South Pacific will blow off putting 100 cubic kilometers of ash and sulfur in the upper atmosphere killing 80% of the population.  We're way overdue for that big one and no-one makes any plans for it.  If the volcano doesn't do it then a plague will. 

LawsofPhysics's picture

wow, that sounds much better than starvation anyway. 

Harr Tuttle's picture

Is this the same Paul Erlich that espoused global cooling during the 70's claiming we were headed into an ice age?

Rogerwilco's picture

Jumping into commodities with both feet might not be the best advice right now:


Ags, base metals, oil, and even PMs may be in for a rough ride.

Weisbrot's picture

lets create jobs while producing water, thats right create jobs and drinking water with coastal de-salinization facilities, with pipelines to supply the aquifers that need the boost the most.  the only reason this isnt being done is that the corruptiticians havent been paid off or told to do it by their puppet masters.

prophet_banker's picture

this article was weak, eugenics making a comeback; and if we ever start using more de-salinization, it won't be to pump the water in the ground, it'll be for consumption and agriculture.  If the world warms and cools, IT IS NOT BECAUSE OF CO2, That's tobacco science.

Hexus's picture

Eugenics never left us, it just went underground after you know *cough* the whole Hitler thing. But it's legacy was continued through organisations like Planned Parenthood and others. Now it's back with a vengance in the green movement, a clever guise, who'd of thought those damn hippies would be the ones to bring it back into the mainstream?

LawsofPhysics's picture

Unfortunately, de-salination takes a tremendous amount of energy.  Energy costs may stabilize but they are not going down and besides we need the energy to make fertilizer via the Habor-Bosch process.  Sorry, thermodynamics is a bitch. 

kensuneit's picture

I think we could stand a wider band of warmth rather than cold since we inhabit the warmer regions more densely than the colder regions of the globe.  Additionally, there is some evidence that in the event the planet warms up, as opposed to cools down, vast regions which had not been farmable may become producers.

I don't disagree that there has always been climate change.  I may not even disagree that we may have had some effect on the climate globally.  That it is all bad and will lead to catastrophe, however, is simply not supported by any concrete evidence.  People have historically migrated or battled as necessary to survive and will continue to do the same in the future.

As we adjust to climate change, we will certainly have imbalances and profits may be gleened.  Long foods, long military, long fuels.

LawsofPhysics's picture

Want to be employed forever, always work in sectors that provide things people will always need, like water, food, fuel, and shelter.  Of course then there is this issue of the forthcoming robots...

LawsofPhysics's picture

Want to be employed forever, always work in sectors that provide things people will always need, like water, food, fuel, and shelter.  Of course then there is this issue of the forthcoming robots...

falak pema's picture

We'll be back to 3 billion before this century ends...one way or the other...

alien-IQ's picture

1 billion lives will be lost to war.

1 billion lives will be lost to famine.

and 1 billion people will have maxed out their unemployment benefits so they will simply no longer count and therefore, in the eyes of the system, no longer exist.

impending doom's picture

Wait, what? Population is growing fastest in the US? Immigrants and H1b visa holders, perhaps. People used to have kids at 20, now 30+ and they have fewer of them.

Eternal Student's picture

You're close. There's a pattern to population growth, and that it levels off sharply as a society becomes more "advanced". Women stop having as many kids. The trouble is that it takes a generation to achieve this, but it is happening throughout the world.

This was the flaw in Ehrlich's original thesis; though to be fair, it was a pattern which was only starting back in the 1960's. It's also something that MHFT knows extremely well, as he actually referenced the January issue of National Geographic, which called this issue out.

The Earth has enough ariable land to support a much larger population in theory. Even without fossile fuels, and using the most advanced sustainable farming techniques.

Climate impact is a different story though. For that, we shall have to see.

Flakmeister's picture

  Currently there is 0.25 acres of arable land per capita. This, could in principle, increase by about a factor or 2, assuming you find the water etc... It also doesn't take into account the arable land that is being lost. Sustainable agriculteral practices reduce the current yields by a factor of ~2. So what we have is basically a wash...


Eternal Student's picture

I disagree. Try a factor of 40. One can get this from the CIA's data book, as I recall. And the best, sustainable practices have a maximum yield of supporting 10 people per acre. So, if you take the maximum ariable land, at 10 people per acre, you'll end up with about 12 Billion being supported.


There's a family farm in one of the cities near Los Angeles, which is supporting more than 4 people on a quarter acre. They are near one of the major freeways, IIRC.

All told, this planet should be capable of theoretically supporting around 12 Billion, in a sustainable fashion. Note that this is an upper bounds. Subtract inefficiencies from here, and add back in that everyone doesn't need to consume like Americans. Still, the UN estimate of 9 Billion people by 2050 fits within these parameters.

One can quibble about certain aspects of these calculations here. But the point solidly remains that there doesn't have to be a die-off, like Ehrlich has been claiming for almost 50 years now.

Flakmeister's picture

  It boils down to water and 40 sounds high to me. From the FAO report gleaned from Wiki, we are at ~40% usage of arable land that is rainfed. 

And for the purposes and level of the general discussion here, we are really quibbling. In some sense, it does not matter if we hit the wall in 1990, 2010 or 2050. We do hit the wall and unlike a lot posting here, I actually worry about what my grandkids will reap as their earthly endowment.

Eternal Student's picture

Fair enough. I accept that we're mostly in violent agreement. :)

The main point though is that population replacement either has leveled off, or is in the process of doing so.

The main question, which remains, is will it do so fast enough to fit within what can be supported by the Planet? I'm of the opinion that it well can, and that there doesn't need to be the die-off that the extreme doomers are predicting.

I will grant, though, that we as a species do not have a solid history of working in the most efficient fashion. And that the concerns are valid. Especially given what I call the E^3 crisis (Economy, Energy and the Environment).

Flakmeister's picture

That is a very good way to put it. My fear is that despite having the ability to "rationalize and solve" things, we do not have the ability, political or otherwise, to implement anything but superficial measures that will do nothing to address the problem.

I hope that I am proven wrong, but judged on the dogmatic bullshit on display here,  it is clear that we are a long way off, and time is exactly what we don't have much off. Best case scenario, worldwide famine in the next 10-15 years, knocks off about ~500 million between starvation and civil disorder, the rationalists then prevail and then the hard work starts. Humans learn their lessons very hard.

impending doom's picture

+10 billion to both of you for the intelligent discourse w/o resorting to any comments about anyone's mother. Reminds me of the old days of ZH.